Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 26, 2007

When Will Juan Cole Disclose His Government Contracts?

UPDATE: Juan Cole has no government contract. See update section below:

There is some discussion in the blogsphere, recapped below, about experts who give 'independent' public opinions on Middle East affairs while having financial income by lobbying for partisan groups involved in these affairs, or from U.S. government related partisan entities.

The discussion illustrates that partisan financial relations, not disclosed voluntarily and preemptively but becoming public otherwise, arouses suspicions how far an expert can be trusted as an independent source of knowledge and valid opinions.

When the author of one of the most influential Middle East blogs, Professor Juan Cole, does undisclosed consulting work for the CIA and the State Department while offering 'independent'  expert opinions in commercial media like Salon and Asia Times Online and at his blog questions may come up. 

First let us recap the current discussions:

Blogging for Salon, Glenn Greenwald explains How our seedy, corrupt Washington establishment operates. His case is about Philip Zelikow, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who next to his job at the University of Virginia, consults for a partisan lobbying firm and  gives 'independent' expert opinions to the media. While Zelikow was opining about 'leadership change' in Iraq in an ABC interview, the lobbying firm has a big contract with Iyat Allawi, who wants to be the 'new leader' in Iraq.

Laura Rozen writes that Zelikow, a former teacher of hers, denies to have known about the Allawi contract while punditing for ABC:

My sense is if Zelikow made a mistake, it was not one of concealing a conflict of interest, because he not only wasn't working on the BGR Allawi account, but didn't know about it at the time he was interviewed; but rather that he didn't preempt the perception of a possible conflict of interest, and that the best thing would have been to make sure the media knew about his BGR work. The argument that he's deceitful strikes me as totally unfair. As he says, it's "hard to see how to preempt the conflict if you don't know there is one. If they brought up the Kurds, different story."

Zelikow may not have been deceitful, but he should have disclosed his general relations to a lobbying firm that works on the issues he talks about, and the Kurds are certainly involved here too, as a seemingly 'independent' expert.

Another case is Mike O'Hanlon. Steve Clemons, guestblogging at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, points out that O'Hanlon gets paid by a U.S. government TV station in the Middle East, while writing 'independent' pro-"surge" op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

I've also recently learned that Mike O'Hanlon is under contract with the US government's propaganda network, Alhurra.  I'm not quite sure what I think about that yet -- but it's something that ought to be in the open.

That case, like Zelikow's, is a bit murky too. A commentator at Kevin Drum's Political Animal remarks that O'Hanlon may just collect simple 'stipends' everybody who pundits at Al'Hurra is getting too. While 'stipends' may be less than a full contract, I thinks this should have been disclosed by O'Hanlon, if only to avoid any suspicion of undue influence.

O'Hanlon gets his main paycheck from the Brookings Institute, Zelikow from the University of Virginia. If they make extra money working on lobbying cases, or 'stipends' for slots at a government TV station, they should disclose this when they opine as neutral 'experts' in the public media, be it on TV, in op-eds or at well traveled blogs.

Not doing so lessens the value of their judgements.

Which brings me to a third case no blogger at Salon or elsewhere seems to bother about.

Juan Cole is Professor at the University of Michigan and blogs at Informed Comment. Neither at his site nor on his personal page does Cole disclose any work for the government. There is no mentioning of Cole's government consulting in his regular Salon columns either.

But last week Cole appeared at the New America Foundation to talk about his new book on Napoleon's occupation of Egypt and how this relates to current affairs. The event was covered by Cspan and video is available at the foundations site and also linked at Cole's blog.

Cole is introduced by Steve Clemons, a director at the foundation. Clemons lauds (my transcription):

I've been fortunate to have had -mostly a virtual- relationship, with Juan Cole by blogging and email, but we become buddies of a sort whenever I find out that he is coming through Washington -  very frequently to help our government have, you know, better sensors and benchmarks of what's going on over there.
And as I said in the beginning, one of the things that does give me some hope, now and than, is that Juan does come through Washington, is talking to people of significants in our intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies and is trying to educate them on what is going on. Weather they are listening and implementing anything he is saying, is an entirely different subject for perhaps another day. But without further ado please help me welcome Juan Cole.

Maybe Juan Cole flies very frequently to Washington to educate the CIA and State Department for a cup of cold coffee and a warm handshake - I don't know. More likely though is that he does get some financial compensation.

Whatever it is, he should have disclosed this publicly on his blog and in his other writings.

A good example how experts can and should explain their relationships was recently given by Anthony Cordesman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Within an oped on Arming Arab States in the NYT and IHT, Cordesman writes:

Disclosure: the nonprofit organization I work for receives financing from many sources, including the United States government, Saudi Arabia and Israel. No one from any of those sources has asked me to write this article.

That is the way Zelikow and O'Hanlon should also have disclosed their financial relationship with partisan lobbying firms and government propaganda institutions.

It is also the way Juan Cole should disclose his "very frequent" trips to Washington and his work for "intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies" there.

Salon, where not only Greenwald but also Joan Walsh opines on ABC News: Zelikow didn't disclose lobbying role, should also disclose that their frequent columnist Juan Cole is a government consultant.

When will Juan Cole disclose his government contracts?

When will Salon do so?

Must we finally have that blogger ethics panel?

UPDATE: I emailed Juan Cole asking about contracts and he answered:

Steve was being hyperbolic.  I don't consult with the administration.

As a public intellectual and an employee of the state of Michigan paid by the people to tell them about the Middle East, I tell all kinds of people about the Middle East.  There are occasions on which government people (mainly GS 13s probably) are in the audience.  I don't have a contract with the government and they would hear the same thing if they came to a Middle East Studies Association conference. 

I think if the government gave me a contract or I formally worked for a subcontractor (which by my University contract I could do 4 days a week), that should be disclosed.  That some think tank asked me to speak and people from the government came is not remarkable.



I apologize for having suggested something else.

Posted by b on August 26, 2007 at 13:54 UTC | Permalink


these issues inevitably prop-up periodically because there is no real sustained effort in place to monitor & watch-dog "ethics, fairness & balance" in the press. Same applies to law-enforcement.

we can fantasize all we want about a free-press & a fair-judicial.

Western press as we know it is really the technological child of a particular monarchial form.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 26 2007 14:18 utc | 1

his work for "intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies" there....When will Juan Cole disclose his government contracts?

you may be jumping the gun. i have no certainty from clemon's introduction cole has 'government contracts'. he very well may, but at the same time it is likely government sources consult experts frequently who aren't under contract. just sayin'.

also, without passing judgement on whether or not Zelikow did or did know know haley barbour's (scum) firm was representing allawi, these pro gov pundits all likely have their fingers in so many different pies they would likely have to disclose reams of contacts to be considered 'clean'. nobody gets to be an official 'counselor' for any top dog in this admin without being thoroughly approved by the corporate hacks, of which barbour is thoroughly immersed. what about his connections to aipac? i mean for god sake, can you imagine if a senator were required to disclose all their lobby contacts (cough/contracts) everytime they made an announcement or a vote. someone like billy the bloody, he probably 'advises' a zillion firms. does he have 'contracts' w/them all? he spills his guts every sunday morning, do they continually announce his connections? no.

my point? yeah, it would be great if we had that info, but it ain't going to happen. its a conspiracy, we will always be the last to know.

personally, i think it is likely cheneyco/neocon central don't consult people like cole to make their decisions. they have an agenda and when someones opinion jives, they 'consult' w/them to justify their agenda they needed. ass backwards.

Posted by: annie | Aug 26 2007 14:57 utc | 2

they 'consult' w/them to justify their agenda they needed.

i neeeeed more coffee. when needed, or to support their MO.

Posted by: annie | Aug 26 2007 15:02 utc | 3

re the greenwald salon piece..

Allawi hires the most powerful GOP firm in the country, with former top Bush officials as partners, and almost immediately, the key Op-Ed pages of our nation's newspapers open up to him and all of official Washington, beginning with the President, changes course. Suddenly, key figures in both parties begin calling for Maliki to be replaced.

personally, i think this could be ass backwards. the new meme in the press is 'let iraq do it, it is all up to iraqis' what does that tell me? it tells me they are working behin the scenes to arrange a switch of leaders in iraq making it appear it is coming from iraq. not that iraq is not fed up w/maliki, i'm positive many of them are. so maybe 'Allawi hires the most powerful GOP firm' should really say, the gop/neocon juggernaut assigns the most powerful gop firm to handle the switch, and allawi is their choice.

an anonymous Bush source, claimed that "White House officials are not privately involved or blessing the lobbying campaign to undermine al-Maliki." CNN quoted the official: "There's just no connection whatsoever. There's absolutely no involvement."

lol, yeah right! could it be the total opposite? of course!

Is Zelikow formally working with his old administration colleagues to form Iraq policy while being paid by Ayad Allawi to restore him back to power?

being paid by allawi? whaddeva

told Rep. Snyder he was cancelling because he had been retained to do consulting work for the Bush administration specifically on Iraq policy,

gee, wonder why? could it have been to prevent him from spilling the beans to congress. this whole thing is supposed to look 'organic'. it is supposed to appear as a homegrown iraqi movement. they are trying to create the illusion it is not backed/initiated by the WH so that when allawi comes into power iraqis will more easily embrace him. for what it is worth, i don't think anything could be much worse than it is now. if allawi can bridge some secular chasm in iraq society that stymies the genocide..., at this point ANY movement might be an improvement. on the other hand, i wonder if it includes some agreement on an iran attack. no doubt they are lining up their ducks.

we are under a constant barrage of framing, that much is certain.

Posted by: annie | Aug 26 2007 15:41 utc | 4

Good post, Cole has not been hounded out of his College by AIPAC. Which is the modus operandi for getting rid of true non-believers.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Aug 26 2007 15:48 utc | 5

If you look at Cole's writing over the last year or two you can discern his tilt from simple elucidation to policy advocacy. I assume he is acting (in his own mind) in good faith, trying to make the best of the total mess the US has made. His tilt follows the path if not the specifics of another semi-secretly backed 'expert', Peter Galbraith.

Should we be happy that the CIA and others are now listening, or at least acknowledging, more intelligent people? Is it good that the AEI and Heritage ghouls aren't getting all the money? You know that the US govt is reading his blog as well as other internet sources we consult, so why not have them pay for it?

Of course it should be disclosed. I have no illusions of pure academia with him or anyone else I read. Everyone has an agenda, one can only hope it's for good.

I find myself reading his stuff less and less anyway as I have found better sources of news and opinion on Iraq. However, it has been interesting to watch his tangles with the Zionist camp as he has offered even his tepid support for the Palestinians.

Posted by: biklett | Aug 26 2007 16:05 utc | 6

@annie - 4 - Greenwald has a follow up post now where he gets to that point:

Obviously, whoever is paying $300,000 per month to BGR realizes that Iraqi "sovereignty" is an illusion and power in Iraq is determined not by Baghdad but by the Beltway. And we don't even really pretend otherwise any more, hence the decrees from Levin and Clinton that Maliki must be replaced. ...

Zelikow, also cited by Greenwald, denies that he is involved. We may believe that or not.

In Glenn's comments I pointed also to Cole's government work and Glenn answered in another comment:

Do you have any evidence at all that Juan Cole is paid anything in order to give his views on Iraq? I highly doubt, to put it mildly, that anyone in the Bush administration is paying Juan Cole for advice on Iraq. If you have evidence that they are, point to it.

No, I have no evidence. But Greenwald has no evidence on Zelikow either, just lots of hints that point to a connection and that make it likely.

I don't know if Cole gets paid for "very frequent" travel to Washington and "educating intelligence and foreign policy" folks. If he does not, it would be kind of stupid.

I don't even mind if he does. Pat Lang also works for the Pentagon and other places and has disclosed this several times in his blogposts and comments. In my mind, that makes him more believable than someone who doesn't declare his relations.

Posted by: b | Aug 26 2007 16:14 utc | 7

Like a broken record, but yet again, it's the system. Create a system where the only way to eat is to agree and comply with said system, only one avenue to move forward, or at least not lose ground, and become the status quo or lose your place.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Aug 26 2007 16:19 utc | 8

@biklett - Galbraith is working for the Kurds. He has quite a history with them.

Everytime he argues for partitioning Iraq, you have to keep in mind that he has a very, very Kurdish pespective. No idea if he gets paid for it, but Fred Kaplan at Slates writes without caveat:

Galbraith has long been a consultant to the Kurds and, long before that, a passionate advocate for their cause.
A Kurdish site calls him an "Adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government".

He should disclose ...

Posted by: b | Aug 26 2007 16:25 utc | 9


I know about Galbraith and the Kurds, I guess I just said it too politely.

Posted by: biklett | Aug 26 2007 16:35 utc | 10

The only leaning I have preceived in the years of reading Juan Cole's opinion has been his bias in favor of Shia Islam, for whatever reason he might have. I get the impression he doesn't seem to really like Sunnis very much.

As for govt consult work, I have done a lot of that but in no way have I automatically favored their plans or opinions. So I would not condemn him as a govt toad. I have heard Cole introduced in TV interviews as someone that the govt consults with on occasion. He probably should mention it in his curriculum at least.

Posted by: Ensley | Aug 26 2007 16:38 utc | 11

'Blasphemous' Bills Anger Americans
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Greenville, South Carolina

Demonstration over essentials dropped by Canadian troops
Currency imitation angered students of flooded university

A demonstration has been held on the campus of Bob Jones University accusing Canadian troops of insulting America after they distributed toiletry supplies bearing the cherished symbols of American heritage.

The toilet paper showed a repeating pattern of American $100 bills, featuring the declarations, "E Pluribus Shoppum", and "In God We Chi-ching", expressing American's devout faith that God loves shopping too.

The Canadian military said the idea had been to give toiletry essentials for the Christian students to use during severe local flooding, and they did not realise it would cause offence.

The shrink-wrapped bales of $100 toilet paper rolls were dropped from a helicopter in Greenville County.

Photo by Fox TV
Toilet Paper Dropped by Canadian Troops
The supplies were intended as a relief gift

The words on the imitation currency, which include the name of God, with some Old Latin thrown in, are revered, and Americans are very sensitive about where and how they can be used.

Clerics at Bob Jones University criticised the Canadian forces for their religious insensitivity, and around 100 students held a demonstration and prayer vigil on the campus.

University President Steven Jones said: "To have a version of our cherished American currency on something you wipe your ass with would be an insult in any American around the world. Even more insulting, the all-seeing Eye of God was centered on the 'sweet spot', if you know what I mean!"

A spokeswoman for the Canadian relief forces said they made "significant efforts to work with local leaders, clerics and elders to respect their culture" and distributing the toilet paper was an effort to give relief to the flood-beleagured campus that students would find useful.

"Unfortunately," he added, "there was something on those rolls we didn't immediately understand to be offensive and we regret that as we do not want to offend. Your US currency is in the crapper anyway, and we thought our British form of humor might ease their desparate relief situation."

Local weather forecasters predict another 39 days and nights of heavy rain for the South Carolina region.

Posted by: Tante Aime | Aug 26 2007 16:52 utc | 12

Cole has not been hounded out of his College by AIPAC. Which is the modus operandi for getting rid of true non-believers.

not his school but aipac led a much publicized and sustained campaign to prevent him from teaching at harvard (or was in princton?) and it worked.

thanks for the followup b

Posted by: annie | Aug 26 2007 17:27 utc | 13

@ ENsley picking up on your point"The only leaning I have preceived in the years of reading Juan Cole's opinion has been his bias in favor of Shia Islam, for whatever reason he might have. I get the impression he doesn't seem to really like Sunnis very much."

If that is correct then Cole comments need to be treated with the same disdain that any bushite take on Iraq would be regarded with.

As long as any commentator looks at the mess that has been created by outsiders in the ME, Iraq in particular and tries to divide the different factions into 'good' or 'bad' , better or worse than each other they are going to contribute to the problem. The Shia/Sunni thing in the Arab world (as seperate from persia) is a rich/poor or really a poor/poorer divide.

Imagining that the problem can be solved by applying some sort of ethical template to the people of Iraq; casting one mob as good and the other as less good is a hangover of the dualistic nature of the universe most monotheists are brainwashed into from an early age when they are taught everything is either good or evil.

The notion that one particular group are the goodies ie the cowboys and the other group is bad ie the indians leads into "Look here come the cavalry. Yaaay!" That premise has been used to sell imperial aggression to amerikans for too long.

The people are poor hungry and oppressed. If those issues can be alleviated then they will work out the political issues with each other.

The technocrats advising the warmongering bastards know this which is why the first moves that the invaders made upon entering Iraq all contributed to increasing the poverty and reducing the freedom of all Iraqis. Burn a mosque here, blow up an imam there and before you can say Allah is an asshole, the mob are at each others throats while we grab the oil.

Of course the technocrats didn't plan on their little brushfires becoming a raging inferno, which is what happened. Even so the strategy of keeping the Iraqi people poor and oppressed and at each others throats has continued. The tactics may be to try and turn down the heat enough to get their oil law and begin getting the loot out, but they haven't abandoned the the masterplan. Assholes.

Anyway the emphasis by outsiders of whatever stripe on splitting Iraqis into good/bad based upon what particular philosophy their families have followed is racist and divisive. If Cole does indeed push that point of view(I don't know I gave up on reading him years ago when it became apparent his interest was amerikan party political) that is a damn good reason for him to be sidelined from any serious debate.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Aug 26 2007 21:04 utc | 14

By Juan Cole:

"I Am All the Prophets": The Poetics of Pluralism in Baha'i Texts” 1993, abstract only from Jstor.> link

The Baha'i Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997 1998, abstract only from Jstor.> link

Fundamentalism in the US Bahai community, 2002>full text

Modernity and the Millennium, Columbia University Press, (1998). "This volume illuminates the complexity and ambiguity that characterized the changing relationship of Bahaullah and his followers to modernity." (google for more.)

Website: **Bahai studies** (site pretty dead but it was very popular)>link

Posted by: Tangerine | Aug 26 2007 21:16 utc | 15

Cole was kept out of a teaching post at one of the Ivy League universities by AIPAC pressure, this hardly puts him in the same boat as Bush.

In the 80's I was a member of European Nuclear Disarmament, a group founded by, among others, EP Thompson. The idea was that West European peace activists should talk to East European dissidents, thus denying Western governments claims they were fighting for freedom in the East and Eastern governments claims they were fighting for peace in the West.

We made many visits into the East - talking to dissidents and dodging the authorities. When we got back many talked to their Western governments about what they had seen on the ground.

Why? To influence the Western Governments with our point of view - we ended up with many
sympathetic young diplomats in the Foreign Office who were eventually to serve under Robin Cook - to increase understanding and dialogue between governments, to show our government that many dissidents were not their puppets, and to show them that there were viable alternatives to their hardline policies.

I'm very grateful that someone is talking common sense and reality to the idiots in Washington. We never demanded, because we talked to the FO about the East, money. I'd be surprised if Cole was.

Posted by: johnf | Aug 26 2007 21:57 utc | 16

People who the CIA may go to for advice once in a while (I have no idea if he got paid) come in all shapes and sizes.

With any luck, some of the more clued up ones get to have some influence.

The vastly different outcomes of the two situations "North Korea with putative nukes" and "Iraq with putative nukes" might be down to someone, somewhere having actually listened to Jim before things got too out of hand.

No such luck in Iraq, but then those North Korean oil fields are kind of small.

Posted by: Dismal Science | Aug 26 2007 22:44 utc | 17

Tante Aime,

The bbc article was not bad either in its absurdity. Dropping religiously insensitive footballs from helicopters. Kind of sums up the whole hearts and minds strategy.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Aug 26 2007 23:48 utc | 18

Speaking of full disclosure, consider Pat Lang.... god only knows there, but he apparently refuses to discuss any of the real reasons the war is being fought, and w/all his emphasis on the internal divisions, there is no discussion of the fact that xUS gov. Refuses to work w/the Nationalists, both Shia & Sunni who want to united Iraq. Implicitly he encourages the govt. agenda of partition. Who pays him on his frequent "business" trips?

Posted by: jj | Aug 27 2007 4:13 utc | 19

Speaking of Professor Cole: Bonaparte and Bush on Deck

Lessons from Past Western Incursions in the Middle East. A speech by Juan Cole at the New America Foundation in which he discusses his new book, Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East, and the relevance and lessons of Napoleon's expedition in Egypt to the current American occupation of Iraq. A shorter version, covering many of the same points, is in this article: Pitching the Imperial Republic.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Aug 27 2007 5:18 utc | 20

If the government is listening to Professor Cole, they are finally talking to someone with their head screwed on straight who's not actively planning Armageddon. This is unquestionably a positive development.

Posted by: hopping madbunny | Aug 27 2007 10:15 utc | 21

I emailed Juan Cole asking about contracts and he answered:

Steve was being hyperbolic. I don't consult with the administration.

As a public intellectual and an employee of the state of Michigan paid by the people to tell them about the Middle East, I tell all kinds of people about the Middle East. There are occasions on which government people (mainly GS 13s probably) are in the audience. I don't have a contract with the government and they would hear the same thing if they came to a Middle East Studies Association conference.

I think if the government gave me a contract or I formally worked for a subcontractor (which by my University contract I could do 4 days a week), that should be disclosed. That some think tank asked me to speak and people from the government came is not remarkable.



I apologize for having suggested something else. I'll now submit myself to the blogger ethics panel ...

Posted by: b | Aug 27 2007 10:20 utc | 22

Don't beat yourself up, Bernard. I's like to hear the question asked of all pundits. The answers would be enlightening to those of us who care how our politics are made. Juan's response makes me sleep better at least about Dr. Cole.

(Who's today's target? Charles Krauthamer?)

Posted by: infoshaman | Aug 27 2007 11:40 utc | 23

Bernhard, I appreciate your clarification on the Juan Cole post. Thought you were "off base", as I was pleased that someone was talking to the gov't that actually spoke the language, as well as knew the area. Landis and Cole are good sources of information on the ME, although we may not always agree with what they say. Thanks for your direct question to Cole and your printing of his response.

I personally hope he at least gets air fare to D.C.

Posted by: ww | Aug 27 2007 13:13 utc | 24

good of you to follow up b.

Posted by: annie | Aug 27 2007 18:26 utc | 25

The comments to this entry are closed.